Importance of Being Earnest hits the IPAC

Nathan O'Keefe and Nancye Hayes in The Importance of Being Earnest. Picture: SHANE REID

Nathan O'Keefe and Nancye Hayes in The Importance of Being Earnest. Picture: SHANE REID

The Importance Of Being Earnest 

Illawarra Performing Arts Centre

September 2-6

Tickets: $49-$72 via the box office on 42245999 or visit merrigong.com.au

If Australian musical theatre stalwart Nancye Hayes had a "bucket list" of coveted roles, Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell would be towards the top.

While the Helpmann Award winner admits she doesn't play favourites with characters, she said she jumped at the chance to portray the over-bearing Victorian powerhouse.

"She's just so snobbish and authoritative," she said.

"She's very opinionated and grand, she's just delicious to play; it's nice to get to play someone who isn't very pleasant once in awhile."

Hayes is set to bring Bracknell to Wollongong with the State Theatre Company of South Australia's new production of The Importance of Being Earnest.

The show - a more contemporary adaptation of the popular work - has sent Hayes and her castmates on a three-month journey around Australia, including packed houses in Adelaide, Canberra and Geelong.

Speaking to the Mercury on a roadside in Victoria, Hayes said she still enjoyed touring, admitting it had long become second nature.

"I'm kind of used to it now, I've done it all my life," she said.

"We tend to take the car and end up taking nearly everything from home with us, you have to have your creature comforts on the road."

Hayes began her career in the original Australian production of My Fair Lady in 1961. Finding her feet as a dancer in the ensemble, it wasn't long before she caught directors' eyes and was able to throw in her day job as a secretary for a full-time life on the stage.

"I always wanted to perform but my mother wasn't so keen; she wanted me to have something to fall back on so I did a secretarial course," she said.

"We agreed that once I did that and worked, I could go and try out for shows so that's what I did ... I started out as a dancer but then I started getting small roles, with a line here or there and people started to notice me."

Since then, she has played leading roles in Annie, Chicago, Guys and Dolls, Sweeney Todd, Nine, 42nd Street and Show Boat.

She has also picked up several awards for her work including a Green Room Award, three Lifetime Achievement Awards and an Order of Australia medal for services to the arts.

Although she has spent the better part of her life on-stage, Hayes admits to still getting an "adrenalin rush" before she performs.

"I definitely still get the nerves but it's different now," she said.

"I feel like more is expected of me now, so that's more expectation on yourself.

"Acting is like any craft - you're continually trying to get better and you never stop learning; you have to keep up-to-date and hone your skills."

For Earnest, she had to throw away any preconceptions and come at her character with fresh eyes.

"Lady Bracknell is a very famous part, it's been played by wonderful people and I've seen it done in several plays and films," Hayes said.

"This production has a very fresh look - even though it's set in the period it's not updated in any way - the approach to the characters is more modern; there's a lot more physical comedy, it's not so mannered and controlled."

Despite still regularly performing, Hayes also finds time to direct, choreograph and mentor young performers.

She concedes to being a slave to the business with no plans to retire just yet.

"I want to keep going while I can work and while I'm being offered work," she said.

"I've never coveted any roles or shows, I've just been very fortunate to get lots of great roles but you never know what's being written right now and what's around the corner."

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